Friday, September 29, 2006

Building and Sustaining Community

September 15-17, 2006 - Cape Cod Retreat for Friends of Color

Lynda Black, a member of my meeting, Central Philadelphia and I drove up to Falmouth, MA to participate in a weekend retreat for Friends of Color. West Falmouth Preparative Meeting has a house behind their meetinghouse. They agreed to host us for the weekend. They did a wonderful job. We had a great time. The weather turned out to be beautiful. However, it did not start out that way.

When Lynda and I left Philadelphia the sun had just come out. As we drove into New Jersey and got onto the turnpike we drove into the rain which had just ended in Philadelphia. It rained the entire drive up to Cape Cod. At times the conditions were absolutely terrible. We passed several accidents on the road and were thankful that we were not involved in any of them. The rain was not constant, it was off and on, sometimes misting, sometimes torrential. Many people were not driving cautiously. After driving for 8 hours we finally arrived at Falmouth Quaker House.

We were warmly greeted. Several Friends also were delayed because of the rain, so it was decided to wait until Saturday to hold any sessions. The four Friends who were there had spent the time socializing until we arrived. Lynda and I joined them as we ate, then we unpacked the car and made our beds so we could get a good nights sleep.

The next morning the rain had stopped and it was bright and sunny. We were joined by a Friend from Maine. After breakfast we had our first session. Ernie Buscemi facilitated a discussion on Community. We shared our experiences of being a Friend of Color. Some of us were the only Friend of Color in our meeting while others had several other Friends of Color. During this discussion two more Friends joined us, one from Connecticut and another from Massachusetts. It was a very nurturing and important session.

Our group piled into three cars into Woods Hole, MA for lunch. We ate at a restaurant called the Fishmonger (shown to your left.) It was a cute restaurant in a quaint town. While we were waiting for them to put some tables together for our group, the draw bridge opened. The draw bridge is in the middle of town. Traffic was stopped and we got a chance to see one boat drive into the harbor and a sail boat go out. By the time all of that excitement was over our table was ready. We were half way through our meal when another Friend from Maine joined us.

We returned to Quaker House to continue our talk about community. However, before we began we posed for a group picture. Two of the Friends who joined us for the retreat are not in this picture. We came from six different states; Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

In our afternoon session we continued our talk on Community and also talked about our next Gathering. We spent a significant amount of time hearing and talking about East Sandwich Preparative Meeting and Sharon's struggle with them. We focused our conversation on nurturing and supporting her. Then we turned our attention on our next gathering. We decided to meet in Philadelphia in the spring. It was time to break for dinner.

Our dinner was prepared by a fantastic cook, Vernon (Buddy) Pocknett. He served us a traditional Mashpee Wampanoag meal. We had a fantastic meal of stuffed quahog, freshly caught and baked fish, baked potatoes, acorn squash and string beans. Buddy, his wife, Renee Lopes-Pocknett, and son, Aquinnah Lopes-Pocknett, joined us for dinner. We had a very special dessert after dinner. Four of the people in our group had birthdays in September, so I birthday cake was brought out and we all sang happy birthday. It was a beautiful chocolate mouse cake. I am allergic to wheat, so I couldn't eat it, but everyone said it tasted delicious. We spent the rest of the evening talking, listening to music and having fun. Some members of our group stayed up very late enjoying each others company.

The next morning we cleaned up the house, packed up the left over food and headed for East Sandwich Preparative Meeting. Members on East Sandwich had prepared a welcome breakfast for us. Unfortunately, our caravan got lost on our way to the meetinghouse and we arrived late for breakfast, but in time for worship. It was a very gathered and powerful worship. Sandwich is a divided meetinghouse. Worship was held on the left side of the meetinghouse. It was nice to see some familiar faces in the meetinghouse. Anne Nash and K Brown were among the Friends who worshipped at East Sandwich that day. Paul and Mary Mangelsdorf were also there. The Friends who were there were very nice. They had organized a potluck lunch which included the food they had brought for the breakfast we missed. I had a chance to talk with a few Friends. I signed their guest book and sat down to eat my yogurt when it was time to leave. Lynda and I said our goodbyes. As we were leaving we found out that the Friends who were upset with Sharon, her mother and Friend Rachel had not come to worship with us that morning. I was sad to hear that they decided not to worship with us. I am not sure what they were afraid we would do during our visit. I am also sad that they missed such a wonderful worship.

Lynda and I had a nice drive home. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon. We followed Ernie Busecemi's car to right outside of New York City. We said our final goodbye when we stopped at a rest stop. They headed for the city and we went to New Jersey.

It was my first trip to Cape Cod. I am glad that I went. It was nurturing to spend the weekend with Friends of Color. We were able to cry and play with each other. Share our stories and find out that we were not as alone as some of us felt. One Friend had stopped attending worship and decided to return because of our time together. We have promised to stay in touch with one another. I created a yahoo group for us to be able to do that. However, sharing messages, pictures and calendars over the internet is not the same as face-to-face time together. I am really looking forward to our spring gathering!!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Eastern Shore of Virginia

September 7-9, 2006

It has been a while since I posted to my blog. Of course I have traveled to several places this month. This blog entry is going to focus on the trip I took to Eastville, Virginia to spend some time with my mother and great aunt.

My great aunt is like a grandmother to me. Both my grandmothers and paternal grandfather were dead before I was born. My maternal grandfather, a widower, remarried when I was a little girl, but she and I were not close until recently. My great Aunt, Ida Jones Williams, is a remarkable woman. She is in her 90's, lives by herself, drives her car and travels all over. Aunt Ida was asked to write a book about African American education in Northampton County, Virginia as a part of the state's celebration of Jamestown being 400 years old in 2007.

My mother and I have been helping my great aunt with her manuscript. My mother types her text into the computer, I have been scanning photographs into the computer, taking pictures and assisting with layout. I have also been researching ways to publish the book. One of the things the committee that asked her to write the book did not make clear to her was that they expected her to self publish. My great aunt is going ahead with writing and publishing this book because she is an historian at heart.

My great aunt went to Virginia to attend Hampton University in the 1920's. She graduated with a degree in homemaking. She got married, remained in Virginia with her husband and the two of them taught in the segregated school system. I have been enjoying hearing about her experiences teaching in Virginia. She made sure that she took her class on a trip each year so that the children could get an opportunity to travel off the eastern shore. I was surprised to find out that the schools there were segregated until 1970. Many European American parents avoided desegregation by enrolling their children in private schools. I am learning a lot about African American education in Virginia from helping her with this book.

Before my mother and I drove back to Philadelphia we went to one of my favorite places on the Eastern Shore, Cape Charles. The ocean water there was still warm. We removed our shoes, rolled up our pants and skirt and walked along the shore in the water. Cape Charles has renovated their beach over the past year. They removed old pylons and parts of an old dock, brought in sand, expanded the beach and built a couple breaks off shore to reduce the waves during a storm. Most of the houses along the beach are for sale along with many other houses in the town. The town is changing from a small quaint lower to middle class town to an upper class retirement community. A community of expensive town houses have been built just slightly outside of town. Last year I took a couple photos of the dock and pylons because they were interesting. I wish I had taken more photos of the beach in general.

Here it is after they removed the wood and were placing the new sand.

This is what it looks like now. Here are photos I took this September.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

The Niagara Movement - Harpers Ferry, WV

On August 18th, Barry, Ellen and I drove down to West Virginia. We went to participate in the Centennial Celebration of the Niagara Movement. The National Park Service had invited all of the descendants of the original participants to gather at Harpers Ferry for a weekend of activities. Barry's great grandfather, reverend Garnet Russell Waller and uncle, Dr. Owen M. Waller were among the people who participate in the Niagara Movement's visit to Harper's Ferry in 1906.

Most of the events occurred on the former campus of Storer College. On Friday evening we heard Donzaleigh Abernathy, Juandalynn Abernathy and Dar Dixon perform "Women of Niagara." When we returned to Harpers Ferry on Saturday we attended the descendants reception, heard Dr. David Levering Lewis give a keynote address on W.E.B. DuBois, listened to a gospel concert performed by The Dixie Hummingbirds, and a panel discussion on the topic: "The Problem of the Twentieth Century will be the Problem of the Color Line: Breaking Barriers in America." The panelists were Juanita Abernathy, Reverend Walter Fauntroy, Dr. Eddie Henderson, Monte Irvin, Cheryl White and Joseph Wilder moderated by John W Franklin. While we were quietly listening to the first panelist I heard a commotion at the back of the tent. I turned around to look and saw members of the KKK, dressed in black clothing and Nazi regalia, surrounded by riot police standing at the back of the tent. A few men seemed to be saying something to them when a policeman walked up to the group, spoke a few words and the crowd dispersed. The some of the Klansmen sat at the back of the tent while others stood near them. I was proud that their presence did not disrupt the program. Eventually the members of the KKK left followed by the riot police. The next day an article was in the papers about the Klans attendance.

The Martinsburg Journal

Sunday, Aug 20th, 2006

HARPERS FERRY -- The audience barely missed a beat when about 20 members of the Ku Klux Klan showed up at the beginning of a Niagara Movement Centennial Commemoration event in Harpers Ferry Saturday afternoon.

Children, who were among the nearly 2,000 people of various races waiting to hear a panel discussion on racial issues, gawked in confusion. Most apparently knew little about the group.

"Could they bomb us here, mama," asked one boy.

"Yes," was the answer, and the boy looked mystified.

The adults, who remembered when the KKK wore white robes and hoods and terrorized blacks and others, seemed to stiffen as the black-clad group took their seats to the rear of the tent. Klan members were wearing an alternate uniform Saturday, consisting primarily of black clothing and Nazi regalia.

Another boy sized up the black jeans, T-shirts and red emblems the men, women and teenagers wore.

"Aw, we could take them, couldn't we," he said.

The crowd laughed and turned their attention to the stage as six black barrier breakers shared stories of overcoming racism and offered words of advice.

Panelists included the Rev. Walter Fauntroy, the first District of Columbia delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives; Monte Irvin, a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame who was among the earliest black players in Major League Baseball; Eddie Henderson, the first black to compete in the National Figure Skating Championships; Cheryl White, the first black female professional jockey and Joseph Wilder, a musician who helped to integrate Broadway.

The KKK members left the panel discussion after Juanita Abernathy, widow of civil rights leader the Rev. Ralph David Abernathy, spoke to the audience about the importance of education and responsible voting.

Their exit, under escort by several federal police officers as was their entrance, went unnoticed by most of the audience.

Once the panel discussion ended we took a break and returned to the hotel. We stayed in a hotel near Harpers Ferry in Sheperdstown, WV. Barry's mother, aunts and uncle also joined us. We all stayed in the same hotel.

Later that evening we went back to Harper's Ferry to hear the Count Basie Orchestra. They performed a special "Niagara Suite" composed and arranged by Dr. Frank Foster who was present to conduct their performance. The suite was made up of three parts: The opening suite was "Spirit of John Brown," Part two, "Conference Time," and the final movement, "The Battle We Wage." The Preservation Hall Jazz Band also performed that night, simultaneously at a different location at Harpers Ferry.

On Sunday, August 20th, (Barry's birthday) we were up bright and early and back at Harpers Ferry 6:30 AM where we caught the bus to Murphy Farm. There we joined other descendants from the 1906 movement. A white carnation with the name of one of the 1906 participants was given to family members to place on the foundation for the original site of John Brown's Fort. Then at 7:30 AM we gathered by the river and re-enacted the pilgrimage made by our ancestors in 1906 to the foundation of John Brown's Fort. We walked around the foundation and sat down for a short program. I had the opportunity to sit next to Juanita Abernathy. After the program I had an opportunity to talk with Juanita Abernathy before we loaded the buses to return to the parking lot.

We drove back to the hotel, checked out and gathered in Sherperdstown for brunch. It was the first time that the family as a whole shared a meal together that weekend. Once our stomach were full, we drove back to Harpers Ferry for the last few hours of the celebration. We returned in time to hear Odetta perform songs of freedom and inspiration, the final panel discussion: "Reflections of W.E.B. DuBois" moderated by Dr. Lawrence Hogan. The panelists were W.E.B. DuBois' granddaughter, Dr. DuBois Irvin and Dr. David Levering Lewis. The Delfeayo Marsalis Quintet performed after the presentation prior to the closing ceremony. During the closing ceremony a Niagara Centennial plaque was presented to the National Park Service. The final event was having everyone present gather outside of one of the Mather Training Center for a centennial photograph.

The weekend was filled with wonderful jazz music, panel presentations, several speeches and ended with a presentation of a commemorative plaque and group photograph. I am very glad that I was able to be present for this momentous occasion.

Click the end of this sentence to see photographs of the event posted by the National Park Service .

Below is a photo from the weekend taken by various members of the family with our camera. View more pictures by clicking on the box on the side.